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Those wishing to spent a splendid weekend in close proximity of the Tuscany coast, have their chance by reaching these beautiful islands


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Nautica Magazine 389, september 1994







There was a tale among ancient people where a mythical continent joining a far advanced civilization and bearing the probable name of Tirrenide was shallowed by submarine earthquake, very much like Atlantis; its sinking left only a small part above waters which is known to us today as Capraia.

This island, together with its seven belt sisters, surrounding it, has always been a prime target for those seeking the Mediterranean dominance. The Ligurian first, followed by Etruscans, Greeks, Phoenicians, the romans and later the Longobards (when there do not forget to have someone show you the remnants of a warrior spoils displayed at the local museum) the Arabs and Genoese, all ruled there as the islands lies quarterly in the path of their respective geographical expansion. Tuscan republics, grand duchies and city states claimed them later on, intermingled with Spanish, English and French rulings. This includes even Napoleon who tried his hand here and while exiled at Elba, implemented agriculture and trade. Throughout history, these beautiful islands were true seaports and the only drawback today is that they are mainly used as penal colonies and marine parks which deter their potential expansion.

Tuscany IIM nautical chart by Pagine Azzurre

Elba island is the natural center of the archipelago both for its geographical size and its position. Celebrated by Virgil, known by the Greeks as Aethalia and Ilva by latins, Elba island was a preferred roman holiday resort who built here many splendid villas. The island was also a major source of mineral ores, iron especially.


Characteristic and well known to all here is Calamita point, where magnetic compasses are deviated when passing nearby, consistently altering the course. Elbàs size is too big to fully convey its insular nature and too small as to obliterate the nearness to the Italian coast. Indeed only six miles of water stretch separate the island from the mainland: enough to impose interminably long cues at the ferry terminal to the would be island's visitors. To the mariners riding fast motorboats it is only a short ride only few hours to those opting for sail, departing from the several nearby mainland marinas. Coasting Cerboli and Palmarola, down to the Piombino channel and challenging gusts and strong currents under sail is a unique experience as far as navigational skills go, this area is as demanding as the Messina strait. Thereafter, the choice is either to steer for the Porto Azzurro fjord or the cozy Portoferraio road. Elba island develops 147 kilometers of seacoasts and an area of 224 square kilometers. The height above sea level is determined by the constantly cloud capped Capanne mountain, 1018 meters high, conveying the impression of a true Alpine peak.

Mount Argentario

An holiday destination by definition, especially preferred by the Nordic tourist flow heading for the Tyrrenian coast, Elba island offer a multiple variety of landings although the ports worth of this name are only five. The principal and most important of them is Portoferraio with a seaport enclosed by a breakwater and, to the west, by three piers mainly dedicated to the commercial activity. Sea born holiday traffic is permitted to moor at the Mazzini dock on the left hand of the entrance. This area is at the center of the town and is served with water, electricity and ice making machines. Clockwise navigation will lead to the northwest island's corner where, sheltered by Della Vita cape, lies Cavo whose port is made of a dog leg dock 200 meters long and a finger pier 50 meters long. The maximum permitted draught is 2.5 meters and berthing is permitted both at the main dock and at the local sailing club piers.

Further south you will find Rio marina with a breakwater fitted with cleats and mooring rings: boats can lay over here but attention should be paid to northeasterlies and easterlies that can be dangerous at times. The nearby Porto Azzurro fjord makes it easy to seek shelter; the proper port is located on its right hand side with the fortress of Porto Longone overlooking it. This massive star shaped construction built by Garcia of Toledo under king Philip the Third of Spain is now used as a penitentiary. The port is made of a dock wall with three piers all fitted with bitts and cleats. It is well protected by the fjord configuration but wind from the fourth quadrant funneling through the mountains could be bothering.

After rounding Ripalti point and clearing Calamita point with its magnetic anomalies, some shelter can be found at Stella gulf, but the real safe anchorage on this southern part of the island is only offered at Marina di Campo. A "U" shaped mooring facility made out by two piers and a dockwall provide moorings here. Shelter is found only within these structures, but there as well, winds from the second quadrant will be felt. After making good the small Fetovaia peninsula, at whose bottom one can find one of the best island's beaches, and coasting Polveraia point, continuing northward, one reaches the port of Marciana Marina surrounded by the Medici tower (or Saracen tower as it is known here); this small port is protected by a breakwater, hammer shaped at the head, and whose inner side is used as quay. A southern smaller breakwater engulfs various permanently occupied floating piers owned by the local sailing club. Marciana Marina is the best starting point for those heading to Capraia island, 25 miles away. The elliptical shaped volcanic island is 8 kilometers long and develops a 16 miles coastal perimeter. The contour is mountainous with Monte Castello, the higher, standing out at 447 meters. The western side is very steep and falls to the sea; a wide variety of birds nest here, among them a rare seagull species while the caves at sea level host some common seals.

The island was known to the Greeks and Romans and by the fourth century it gave refuge to the Chernobites who were later replaced by the Saracens. They were later followed by the Genoese and the Kingdom of Sardinia. Since 1872 part of the island hosts a penal farm; the rest is open to tourism and visitors. This small haven is encompassed by two docks: this is where you start the island tour, a must for the pleasant walk amidst luxuriant vegetation and the possibility of exceptional bird watching. Unfortunately, Gorgona island with its mountain peaks, its steep cliffs an the eastern side and slopes, green and thick with pine trees on the other side, is not open to visitors as it is entirely taken by a penal colony.

The port with rocky and shallow bottom is not suitable for large size yachts and the facility can only be used in emergency. The same can be said for Pianosa, another archipelago island. Known to the Romans as Planasia, the name stands for its flat configuration with a maximum 27 meters height above sea level. Inhabited since the Neolithic age, Pianosa was a Roman possession followed by the Pisan and Genoese republic, with a Turkish intermission, only to return to the Tuscan grand duchy and finally destined to its actual penal colony status. Its geographical position and shape generate a very hot and dry climate. Its port is also forbidden to the tourism except for emergencies (a 1500 meters exclusion zone from shore is enforced) and consists of a natural cove closed to the southeast by a 50 meters long finger pier and called St. John cove.

The splendidly mysterious Montecristo island is equally excluded from tourism due, this time, to the existence there of a natural marine park. It is a solid granite peaking with three mountains of which the higher , 645 meters, is the Fortress mountain. Inaccessible from all sides, with its steep almost vertical cliffs, the island has only one landing for small crafts at Cala Maestra. Few small coves could be also used save for the difficulty of making fast ashore and the cliffs sinking down to very deep waters. Landing prohibition is anyway strictly enforced due to the park regulations. Luckily for the sailing tourist, the two remaining splendid islands, Giannutri and Giglio, are open albeit partially, to visitors.

Giglio is the second most important, for extension and population, of the Tuscan islands belt, with a length of almost 9 kilometers and a population of 1800. It is almost completely mountainous with the Poggio della Pagana, the highest at 498 meters. On the broken and indented coast several coves offer refuge, namely the Arenella, Giglio Porto and Canelle on the east coast and Campese with its wide beach to the north west. Prehistorically inhabited and later taken by the Etruscans, the island was the personal feud of the Domitian Enobarbi family, whose villàs ruins can be seen nearby the harbor. The waters surrounding this island saw the fleet of emperor Frederick the Second clashing and destroying the Genoese who were taking the church high priests to Rome to participate to a council called by Pope Gregory the ninth against the emperor. The battle took place an May 3rd, 1241. Pisan and Florentine rules followed and after a brief papal parenthesis, the Tuscan grand duchy took it over.

Safe moorings, notwithstanding the crowded port and the constant ferry traffic, are found at Giglio Porto. With predominant winds blowing from the first quadrant, it has two docks where mooring is permitted only on the eastern one or anchor in the area immediately in front of it. Campese, on the other hand, offer a well sheltered cove from southern winds. A small quay allows for inflatable crafts mooring only.

Horseshoe shaped, Giannutri has a natural shelter at Spalmatoi cove, Low flat and Sparsely cultivated, the island was inhabited after the Enobarbi and the Romans, first by pirates and patter by Gualtiero Adami, a kind of Mediterranean Robinson Crusoe, who for forty years lived in solitude and started a sort of agricultural project. Spalmatoi cove offers good shelter within its spacious gulf with two quays . Opposite the island, the attractive but very narrow Cala Maestra cove with some mooring buoys and dead men, also offers refuge.

The Tuscan island belt thus result in a valid albeit , sometimes demanding nautical test for those sailing this area, best enjoyed during the middle season and can, at the same time, provide a relaxing and rewarding vacation.

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